Tuesday, May 29, 2012
Goon, out on Blu-ray and DVD now, is the latest from Canadian director Michael Dowse (Fubar), and bears many striking similarities to the beloved classic Slap Shot: it's violent, crass, and downright hilarious. Almost as important, it gets hockey right, something most hockey movies struggle mightily to achieve.
The movie is an adaptation of Goon: The True Story of an Unlikely Journey into Minor League Hockey by Adam Frattasio and Doug Smith, the latter of whom is the titular goon, a player who once accumulated 179 penalty minutes in 28 games in the ECHL.
Goon follows Doug Glatt, played by Seann William Scott, as he manages to break into minor league hockey, despite no discernible hockey skills. Well, he has one major skill: the uncanny ability to pulverize his opponents with his fists. As Glatt quickly becomes the premier enforcer of the minor leagues, Ross "The Boss" Rhea (Liev Schreiber), once a dominant enforcer in the pros, is sent down to the minors to finish what is left of a fading career. Naturally, the movie builds to the ultimate showdown between the two heavyweights.
The movie was written by Jay Baruchel, who also plays a supporting role, and Evan Goldberg, who helped write Superbad and Pineapple Express.
Having Baruchel on board is one of the movie's major strengths. Baruchel is a die-hard hockey fan, and it shows. The script references notorious hockey moments, both real and rumoured, such as Mike Milbury hopping the glass and attacking a fan, Marty McSorley slashing Donald Brashear in the head, and even young Montreal Canadiens players becoming engulfed in the local party scene. If you believe the tabloids, there's a reason the character Xavier LaFlemme bears a striking resemblance to a former Montreal Canadiens player.
Despite the abundance of inside jokes for hockey fans, you don't need to be a puck head to enjoy Goon. A rudimentary knowledge of the game would help, but you only need to enjoy vulgarity and violence, which this movie delivers in excess. Some of the lines will have you laughing so hard you might miss some follow-up jokes, but that just means a second viewing is in order.
Although the violence is vicious and, at times, alarming, Goon has a lot of heart. Scott makes Glatt such a likeable character that when he's not fighting he more or less resembles your favourite dopey golden retriever.
Goon is more than just your typical underdog sports comedy, as well. Underneath the violence, the jokes, and the obscenity, Goon subtly tackles the anxieties and insecurities that enforcers endure, plus weighty issues like homophobia in sports, with nothing less than a stiff fist. The movie is too smart to beat you over the head while doing so, because it knows its audience, so the primary focus is always on the jokes and the violence, but if care to look hard enough, it's there.
Goon isn't Slap Shot, but it is a worthy successor. Slap Shot may be the better movie, but that's like saying Wayne Gretzky is better than Sidney Crosby. They're both from different eras, and a product of the times, but each equally great in its own right.